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Patient Stories

Positive Energy

By May 17, 2023May 17th, 2024No Comments
Juan P. Project Access patient

Juan was feeling frequent fatigue, exhaustion, sleepiness, and uncontrolled sweating. There was no relief from the symptoms, no matter his activity level or time of year. His endocrinologist diagnosed a tumor on his pituitary gland, which could eventually affect his optic nerve if he didn’t have surgery. Juan worked closely with the endocrinologist to monitor his condition and took medication for his symptoms.

“The endocrinologist asked me, ‘Why haven’t you had surgery? What are you waiting for?’” Juan says. He had explored the risks of the tumor on the internet, and he was aware of the ways in which people were impacted. He lived with these concerns daily. But follow-up visits every three to six months, bloodwork ($1,500), and MRIs ($800) eventually became an overwhelming financial burden, so surgery was not an option.

Juan credits his primary care physician with really being an advocate for him when he felt helpless. “He told me about Project Access and said that they were going to help,” Juan explains. Project Access staff connected Juan with Dr. Frank Coufal, a neurosurgeon with La Jolla Neurosurgery Associates, and Dr. Ritvik Mehta, an otolaryngology, otology, and neurotology specialist with California Health & Neck Surgery, both Project Access volunteers. Dr. Coufal confirmed both the diagnosis and the need for surgery. He said that the location of the tumor required a consultation with Dr Mehta, who would be assisting with the early stages of the surgery, an image-guided trans-nasal/endoscopic/trans-sphenoidal resection of pituitary tumor.

Dr. Frank Coufal
Dr. Frank Coufal, La Jolla Neurological Associates

Dr. Coufal’s grandfather, a World War I veteran, and Harvey Cushing, the father of modern neurosurgery, were the sparks that lured Dr. Coufal to identify his true passion in life. “Neurosurgery doesn’t feel like work.

I find it exciting and challenging,” he says. Similarly, Dr. Mehta believes that mentorship in otolaryngology and surgery shaped his career and he was hooked from the beginning. Both Dr. Coufal and Dr. Mehta have volunteer experience with international medical missions, but decided to donate their talents to vulnerable populations in San Diego. Dr. Coufal loves volunteering for Project Access and considers it an honor. Dr. Mehta grew up in a poor region lacking healthcare in Kenya, so he believes that giving back is very important.

“The best thing about being a physician is interacting and talking with people to be a source of advice and support,” Dr. Mehta adds. “It is fun to improve patients’ lives and use your skills to help them. It is rewarding, and patients are very grateful.” Dr Coufal concurs. “I receive such positive energy from Project Access patients,” he says.

Dr. Ritvik Mehta
Dr. Ritvik Mehta, California Head & Neck Specialists

When asked about the changes in his life as a result of the surgery, Juan mentions “knowing that I no longer have a tumor. My family life is normal again because I am not constantly exhausted.” Juan is so grateful to so many within Project Access: “For the doctors for volunteering their time… they have kindness and many others who choose to donate for people to have their examinations, surgery, transportation, medicine. Thank you for all the people who stand behind this, that we do not know.”

“Seek more to hear, than to be heard” is a quote that Dr. Coufal lives by. Since 2008, Project Access has facilitated $27 million in care for 7,500-plus uninsured patients just like Juan by providing free consultations and surgeries — all thanks to the dedication of our volunteer specialty physicians.